HC Deb 17 April 1918 vol 105 cc422-31

Section 145 (2) (b) of the Army Act shall be amended by leaving out the words from the first "where" to the end of the Sub-section, and inserting instead thereof the words: fifty per cent. of the total pay and allowances of any warrant officer, non-commissioned officer, or other soldier in respect of a wife or children and not exceeding the sum of two shillings and sixpence in the case of any other soldier in respect of a bastard child." —[Colonel Leslie Wilson.]

Brought up, and read the first time.

4.0 P.M.


I beg to move "That the Clause be read a second time."

This is the Section of the Army Act which deals with the powers of the Army Council or officers deputed by the Army Council to put in force an Order or decree made with respect to a wife or children who have been deserted or left in destitute circumstances by a soldier serving in His Majesty's Forces. That Section in 2 (b) gives power to the Army Council, either on receipt of such Order from the Court or if it appears to their satisfaction or to the satisfaction of any officer deputed for the purpose, that a soldier has deserted or left distitute his wife and children, to make a compulsory daily deduction from the pay of the soldier in the case of a warrant officer Class 1 not exceeding 1s. 6d., and in the case of a warrant officer Class 2 not exceeding 1s. per day, and in the case of the soldier a sum not exceeding 6d. per day. I think it is obvious that this Regulation was framed at the time when the soldier was in receipt of the sum, approximately, of 1s. per day. This does not meet the present circumstances under which the Army is paid at the present time I do not wish in any way to make any reference whatever to the question of separation allowances in dealing with this matter. We are dealing now with an Act of Parliament which is in operation for all time. I believe that under the Statute the separation allowances which have come into force are only for the period of hostilities. I sincerely hope that this is not the case, because the policy and principle of separation allowances have been sanctioned by the House of Commons, and I hope they will be continued for all time; in the Army. That, however, does not affect the argument in regard to the particular case which I am bringing before the Committee. I think it will be acknowledged by everybody that it is obviously impossible that a wife, at this time or any other time, can exist on 3s. 6d. a week, which is the sum allowed to be deducted from the pay of the serving soldier. It is obviously unfair that an arbitrary maxim shall be deducted by law from the pay of the soldier without any reference at all to the pay which he is receiving. I think the Committee will agree that there is a necessary obligation on the part of every man not to leave his wife and family destitute. We have appeals to the Court, and the Court makes an order which is to been forced by the Court, and in the case of the soldier that order is made to the full amount, yet, it cannot be enforced in the case of the serving soldier, owing to the fact of this limitation which is made on the amount to be deducted from the soldier, under Section 145, (2, b), though in the future it follows that reference must be made to the amount paid to the soldier, as it is wrong in any way to assist the soldier in evading his responsibilities.

The question has also arisen, in the case of a private soldier, whether it is legal to deduct 6d. for the wife and 6d. for the child; at any rate, it is obviously impossible to say that the present amount which is allowed to be deducted is in any way adequate according to the amount paid to the man under the increased pay in the Army. I recognise that my Amendment must be limited by one or two facts. It is limited by the fact that there are other allowances incidental to a man's military service; it is also limited by the sum when the order made by a magistrate is to the maximum amount. My proposal, therefore, is that under the Section of the Act the Army Council, or the officers deputed by the Army Council, shall have power to make a compulsory deduction from the pay of the private soldier, in the case where an order has been made under any Act, or at common law in reference to a deserted wife, to the extent of a sum not exceeding 50 per cent. of the man's pay and allowances. I now come to the other question affected by this Section, that of illegitimate children. This Section gives the right to the Army Council, in the case of a bastardy order, to deduct from the pay of the warrant officer a sum not exceeding 1s. per day, or in the case of a non-commissioned officer a sum not exceeding 7d. per day, or in the case of a soldier a sum not exceeding 4d. per day. The Army Council may deduct a sum not exceeding 6d. per day in the case of the private soldier in respect of a bastard child, but under my Amendment, if it is accepted, it is limited by the amount of the bastardy order enforced by the Court, and that amount, as a matter of fact, is the maximum of 5s. per week. Several cases have arisen lately in which a man has had more than one bastardy order against him. The total sum which could be deducted from his pay under this Section would be 4d. per day, which of course would not be sufficient, for you could not possibly give two women 2d. per day each. So far you have broken the law by awarding 6d. or 3d. per day each. Of course, that is a totally inadequate sum to comply with the magis- terial order of 4s. or 5s. a week. If my Amendment be accepted, it would be most unlikely that the total sum I suggest would ever be likely to be deducted from the man's pay, yet it does give power to the Army Council to deduct up to the full amount, according to the pay the man receives, on any order which is made against him.

There have been in the past many difficulties in connection with this question, which I have raised in the House more than once myself, and have been ruled out of order. It is, therefore, that I have taken this opportunity of again bringing the subject forward, when the Financial Secretary to the War Office is present. There are many difficulties, I believe, in connection with this question, and it is within my own personal knowledge that there have occurred many cases of real and severe hardship to women who have been deserted by their husbands, as through being allowed the inadequate sum of only 3s. 6d. per week. These cases have occurred where the private soldiers have been in receipt of pay during the War to the amount of as much as 6s. per day, and others, some of them in the Labour Battalion, 3s. per day; and, while these men may leave their wives totally destitute, the Army Council have no power to deduct more than one day's pay from the man. I hope that the Financial Secretary to the War Office will see his way to accept this Amendment, and, if he does so, it will remove many difficulties, while power will be given to the Army Council, or the officers deputed by it, to pay more adequate amounts to the wives of these men, with the proviso, or limitation, that not more than half a man's pay shall be taken away from him for his wife or family. In my opinion, the Amendment is fair to the wife and just to the soldier himself, and, for these reasons, I submit it to the Committee.


I am extremely glad that the hon. and gallant Member has brought his experience and generous feeling to the solution of a very difficult question. I have for years had Amendments down to the Army (Annual) Bill on this matter, and I have managed to get some of them, in form or substance, accepted by the Government, but I have never been able to approach the subject with the same courage as the hon. and gallant Member, and certainly—but I have not his experi- ence—I never proposed such sweeping changes or such large amounts as he does, and yet I heartily agree with the form in which he has brought this forward. I agree, too, that the amount can now, at this present time, be materially raised, first of all, because the cost of living is very much higher for the wife and children, and, secondly, because the man himself is receiving higher pay in the Army than ever before. There is this consideration which the hon. and gallant Member has not mentioned, it is that when the Court makes an order for payment against the soldier, and only an inadequate weekly amount can be legally deducted from his pay, arrears are accumulating week by week, and as soon as that man comes out of the Army he is liable to be proceeded against by process of law for the whole sum that is in arrear. I have myself known cases where soldiers who have had bastardy orders made against them, and who as soon as they came out of the Army, found themselves liable for over £5. They get a gratuity on leaving the Army, and that vanishes at once, because of their liability for large arrears accumulated against them. That may very likely be the case with a number of men leaving the Army after the War is over. They will find large arrears accumulated against them. There may be in many cases men who, we will say, have largely reformed in morals and social traits, and would be able to take their place in society and to start businesses with the money they will receive on coming out of the Army; but such men would be immediately crippled by having to pay large arrears which, if their allowances had been deducted to a larger extent, would be much less than otherwise they would be in fact. The point itself, of course, is a very material one, and that is a reason why, in the end, it is much more kind, much more to the interests of the soldier while he is in the Army, to deduct considerable sums for payments which are legally due from him, than to leave him with heavy burdens of arrears at the time he gets his discharge. I hope some concession will be made by the Government, and that something will be done which is in the interests of both soldiers and dependants.


Those Members of the House who have acted as Poor Law guardians have had another side of this picture presented to them. When the allowance has been so small it has very frequently happened that the wife has become a pauper, and then, under voluntary enlistment, the guardians could make an application to the Army. Many instances occurred where men, suitable as soldiers, were brought back into civil life really because there was no proper financial basis to support the position. It is quite clear that a very small allowance must mean in some cases, where private charity is not available, support from the rates. Then, when we are not under compulsory military service, the guardians can bring the man out of the Army. If the Army authorities can suggest some way whereby a substantial amount can be given to the wife and children, it may keep a suitable soldier in the Army, and the home may perhaps be kept intact.


I have not intervened before because I have been anxious to find some form of words which will go, at any rate, some way in the direction of meeting my hon. and gallant Friend, and those other Members who have spoken on this question. I think there is no doubt that the recent increase of pay given to the; soldier offers very legitimate ground on which we can call upon him to make a larger contribution towards the maintenance of a deserted family than before the increase was given. While, I think, my hon. and gallant Friend carries the matter rather farther than I am prepared to go, I agree with him that some advance in the rate of deduction may properly be made. I will ask the House to remember that, while a very substantial increase of pay was given to the private soldier, that increase was not carried up to the non-commissioned and warrant ranks, and that the non-commissioned and warrant officers have obtained only a very small advance on the pay they formerly received. Therefore, I hope that the Committee will recognise that the Army Council is, in this matter, showing evidence of willingness to be accommodating if they meet these proposals by a suggestion which is somewhat less ambitious. Before I say what, I think, we may fairly do, I should like to clear away the word "'allowances'' from both the Amendment and the minds of my hon. and gallant Friend and other Members You cannot touch a soldier's allowances in these matters, but my hon. and gallant Friend, I think, has not kept in his mind quite clearly the fact that proficiency pay is not an allowance. That would be included, no doubt, in the pay from which the deduction is made. I think we would be going too far if we were to lay down that all soldiers, whether non-commissioned officers or warrant officers, should suffer so heavy a deduction from their pay as 50 per cent. What, I think, would be fair would be to acknowledge in each case that the increase of pay should carry with it an increase of contribution. That would make the increase small in the case of warrant officers and non-commissioned officers, who have received no substantial increase of pay, but I would accept the principle of 50 per cent. in the case of the private soldier, because he has, in the main, received an addition of 50 per cent. to his pay.

I think I can make it clearer and save time if I read from the Clause in the Army Act as it would be if my suggestion is accepted. Where a soldier is a warrant officer, Class 1, not holding an honorary commission, instead of 1s. 6d., 1s. 7d., and, in the case of a bastard child, instead of 1s. 1s. 1d. Where a soldier is a warrant officer, Class 2, not holding an honorary commission, or non-commissioned officer who is not below the rank of sergeant, in respect of wife and children, I should make it 1s. ld., and in respect of a bastard child 8d. instead of 7d. That would bring it practically to the customary 5s. limit. In the case of any other soldier, in respect of wife and children, 9d. instead of 6d., and in respect of a bastard child 6d. instead of 4d. That, I think, would fairly meet the case on the whole. I think it is a substantial acknowledgment that the increase of pay should find expression in increased contributions towards the maintenance of the wife and family. If my hon. and gallant Friend would agree, we may take my form of words instead of his.

Colonel WILSON

In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and the very generous manner in which he has met my Amendment, I am quite willing' to accept the form of words he has proposed.


Perhaps I may say a word. I am sure we all recognise the readiness of the Financial Secretary to meet the case, and I gladly recognise how generous his concession is. But let me make quite clear to the Committee what he did not make quite clear, that these rates which are quoted are not the rates which will be fixed in individual cases. They are only the rates which the Army Council may order to be deducted, and not exceeding these amounts. They are the maximum. I do think that, in view of these figures being the maximum, which will be carried out by the Army Council, and therefore I suppose by Rules issued to the various officers, the right hon. Gentleman might go even further. They are a maximum, and let us see how the maximum which he allows works in the lowest case; I mean the case of a private soldier having payments deducted for a bastard child. He allows 6d. a day; that is 3s. 6d. a week. The order generally made by the magistrate is 5s. It is, therefore quite possible, in fact it will be probable, that each week the man will be in arrear to the extent of 1s. 6d. At the end of a whole year he will be £3 in arrears, which may be charged on him when he comes out of the Army. If he is in the Army three years, there may be £10 arrears against him when he comes out.


Perhaps I may point out that it is no use appealing to me, but to the soldier who does not fulfil his obligations. A soldier is just as much bound to maintain his family as anybody else, and the recent increase of pay will give him power to make up the amount deducted from his pay by the Army Council to the full amount by making voluntary contributions. I do not think an appeal ad misericordiam will meet with much sympathy.


I think all who have experience in this matter will appreciate the fact that you have to consider the efficiency of the soldier. That is a standing difficulty, and all officers who have had to do with these matters know that. It seems to me that if you deprive a soldier of a large proportion of his very small pay you are reducing his efficiency as a soldier. I know many cases where that has arisen. Therefore it is essential there should be a considerable limit, and it is not for us to consider whether, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Somersetshire asks us to do, when the man comes out of the Army there will be a debt against him. We have to consider keeping him efficient as a soldier, and not taking more money from him than will leave him enough to carry on his ordinary expenses of living. We cannot consider what will happen when he goes back to civil life.


I should like to acknowledge, as an old Army councillor, the generous spirit in which my right hon. Friend has met the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member. Some people always will look a gift horse in the mouth. My hon. Friend the Member for Somersetshire is perhaps in that category; it is no doubt due to his zeal for the well being of the soldier that he is inclined to look a little askance at the concession which has been made by the Financial Secretary. But I would really recommend him not to do so. The main ground of his complaint was that inasmuch as these sums are maxima, they ought to be raised a good deal higher, because it is possible that the authority which fixes the amount, namely, the Army Council, may not fix the full maxima. I cannot lay claim to any great experience in this matter, but such experience as I have leads me, as far as my memory goes, to believe that it is quite a common thing for the maximum to be imposed. I think it is done in nearly all cases, and that being so, I would strongly recommend my hon. Friend not to press for any further concession, but to accept the suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I think the best way would be to set this out in full in the present Bill rather than deal with it in detail. That is to say, put it in this form: "Paragraph (b) of Sub-section (2) of Section 145 of the Army Act which relates to the liability of the soldier to maintain his wife and children shall be amended as follows: The words from 'exceeding' to the end of the paragraph be omitted and the following words be inserted instead thereof 'where the soldier is a warrant officer, Class 1, in respect of the wife and children, one shilling and sevenpence, and in respect of the bastard one shilling and a penny. Where the soldier is a warrant officer, Class 2, not holding an honorary commission or a non-commissioned officer not below the rank of sergeant, in respect of the wife and children, one shilling and a penny, and in respect of the bastard child. eightpence. In the case of any other soldier in respect of the wife and children, ninepence, and in the case of a bastard child, sixpence.'"


May I suggest that the reference to "paragraph (b)" be left out? Because if one looks at the original Section in the Act, it will be seen that (a) and (b) are two alternatives in respect of which these provisions, which you have now read, apply.


If there is any doubt we had better do it in that way. I will put the Clause in that way—"Amendment of Sub-section (2) of Section 145."

Question, "That the Clause be read a second time," put, and agreed to.

Clause read a second time, and added to the Bill.


The next Clause also requires a little change in the form, namely, "After Section 42 of the Army Act the following Section 43 (a) be inserted—"